Innovation in cuisine might be an interesting pursuit for many chefs, however the relationship with innovation needs to be practical since there is no sense in designing menus which require more manpower, thereby raising costs, says Chef Rick Stephen, director, SATS Catering By Kahini Chakraborty
Cuisine of Today’ is what people are eating these days and that is what they are expecting,” says Rick Stephen, director of kitchen, SATS Catering. Born in Australia and being the third generation chef, working in major hotel chains, top end clubs, and owning his own restaurant for 12 years and now calling Singapore his home, Chef Stephen’s interest in cooking began at a very early age when he was working in his father’s restaurant in Burnie Tasmania, Australia. “I actually preferred to work with my uncle who ran a large bakery in school. I was the first boy to take cooking classes. There were no issues from my classmates as I was the captain of the rugby team and I think they appreciated some treats after some heavy cold training runs,” he chuckles. Chef Stephen has been in the industry since 1972, and each year has given him some significant learnings – whether it be the many competitions that he has participated in or being awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Young -san University in Korea for his service to his profession. Acknowledging his merits modestly, Chef Stephen says, “These titles do not interest me, what I want to see is what has the person done to put back into the industry. Do they give up their own time and money to take our profession forward? Now I can sit here and say I have won 82 gold medals at international events, but at the end of the day, the gold medals do not keep me in business, it is the food and the knowledge I gain in winning those medals that keep me in business or working as a chef. Sharing is caring!”
Chef Stephen has competed in many competitions winning titles like the Australian Chef of the Year, Chef of Chefs three times. He is also a Gold Medalist winner at Food Asia – Singapore, Culinary Olympics – Germany, Luxembourg World Cup, Fine Foods – Sydney and Melbourne, Sapporo – Japan, Detroit – USA, Team Captain of Australia 1990 – 1995, and Team Manager/ Coach of Australian Team 2002 – 2008. Chef Stephen has had the opportunity to visit a number of Singapore’s neighbours and be involved in chef mentoring to a large brigade of chefs in Singapore, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia and Australia, contributing to the success of a number of these chefs in competitions and in general kitchen work. In November 2013 he was given the distinction of being awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Young-san University in Korea for his service to his profession. In May 2011, he was elected to be the continental director for Asia under the WACS banner, which encompassed 19 countries with three pending membership.
Part of the 35th WACS Congress committee, Chef Stephen also organised and ran the IFK competition in Korea, and also did all the final preparation for the World Finals of the Global Chef and Hans Bueschkens competition. As part of his WACS involvement in the region Chef Stephen has conducted WACS approved coursed and has been appointed to look after the WACS Global Chef competition worldwide. In January 2010, he passed the ‘Certified Master Chef’ programme to be the first Australian to achieve this honour. He is also the author of author of ‘ Kitchen 241 ’ cookbook and ‘The Art of judging ’, which has been piloted and been on a number of lifestyle television shows.
As per Chef Stephen, today a chef has to be quite adventurous, no more hiding as the public wants to see the chef working and on duty. They need to know about marketing, menu designing, food trends and customer perspective to ensure that they are delivering what the people expect, being flexible enough to make changes when items are not working/selling. As there are constant food innovations taking place globally, he opines that the best part about being a chef is that no two days are the same, this can be in a restaurant or a hotel, as each day there are different customers, events or menus. “Dealing with the public can be challenging but also fun. Some of us take our job a little too seriously because at the end of the day you will never please 100 per cent of everyone, but we hope to be able to reach out to 90 per cent,” he adds. But he points out that one of the big issues faced in the industry is with manpower, another may be the fame that the celebrity chef may have given to the industry as suddenly everyone is an expert after only two-three years of experience as a chef. “This has lead to a few downfalls as some do not have the experience to back up the position they hold,” he adds.
When asked about the emerging trends seen in the F&B industry and how different is institutional catering compared to servicing in-flight catering, Chef Stephen replies, “To me the emerging trends is fresh food, knowing the farm or the area that the food has come from and the season for that food. Many parts of the world do not have seasons or are importing all their products which makes seasonal meals hard to come by. The difference I see between commercial catering and airline catering is not a lot except for the fact that hygiene standards on the airline is paramount.”
On the challenges faced in terms of innovation in cuisine and maintaining authenticity of cuisines to cater to various travellers’ demands, he mentions, “The biggest word I would use here in relationship with innovation is to be practical, as there is no sense designing elaborate menus that need 20-30 chefs to cook for 30 guests as this makes the cost of selling the food impractical. The other issue is the fusion of food. You need to maintain your food culture and identity, sure plate it or serve it a different style but the flavours need to maintain the taste profile of the region.” Turning to the demands of Indian customers, he points out, “I would say after Chinese food, India would be one of the highest other international cuisines around the globe. So many chefs from India have done a wonderful job in promoting Indian cuisine and the world is starting to realise that Indian food is not all about hot and spicy food, but about different blends of spices and cooking styles.”